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Try bringing business speak to the table

You may feel that corporate jargon has no place in schools, but key performance indicators are a useful way to measure progress

You may feel that corporate jargon has no place in schools, but key performance indicators are a useful way to measure progress

If you try to introduce business speak to the educational vernacular, you tend to get the same kind of reaction you'd receive if you declared your support for Arsenal at a Spurs match. In short, you need to make a swift exit before the angry locals get hold of you.

And yet there is one exception: when it comes to data, business speak has become commonly used by all with little resistance. Performance targets, efficiency, opportunity cost - the vocabulary of economics settled into schools' data conversations some time ago. Chief among the adopted terms is key performance indicators (KPIs).

At a time when collecting the right data - and interpreting it with focus and sensitivity - has never been more important, KPIs are very useful indeed. If, that is, they are used in the right way.

Mapping out success

Simply put, KPIs are markers that tell you if an objective has been met. For example, your objective might be to ensure that all children in Year 6 achieve in numeracy; the KPI might be that every child reaches a level 4 in maths. Using a dashboard, you can track the progress towards that goal.

Yet it is easy to use KPIs badly. A best practice model would look something like this: the headteacher and their senior management team sit down to map out the school's five-year development plan and draw out some specific and measurable strategic objectives for the year - one could be increasing awareness of the school among prospective parents, for example. The success of these objectives is measured through a series of KPIs. These are discussed and agreed upon with the governing body.

In the awareness example, the KPIs might be an increased number of pupils applying to the school, a set number of positive stories in the local press and a rise in job enquiries. The strategic objectives and their KPIs are then communicated to staff and woven into departmental plans and personal objectives.

The KPIs should be monitored throughout the year using an appropriately configured dashboard, and progress towards successful completion linked to a balanced scorecard. Many organisations use a simple method of assigning colours to indicate performance levels. Red signifies that the KPI has not been met, yellow that progress has been made but the KPI has not yet been fully realised, and green that the KPI has been achieved.

Perfect picks

The key to all this - and where many schools get it wrong - is in the choice of metrics. Schools are not about profit and loss, and a successful school is not just about results and league tables. Here are four tips for choosing the right metrics for your school:

l Identify your goals but do not let the metrics dictate things. Avoid the temptation to be led by what is easy to measure, or even by what you are being told to measure from external forces. Measure what is important to you.

l Be honest in the way you apply the metrics. If you fail to achieve a KPI, ask yourself why. Understanding the reasons behind failure can be just as useful as analysing success.

l Create a timeline and remember that even when a KPI is achieved, it still needs to be monitored. Beating last year's numbers is not the point. A performance measurement system needs to tell you where you are going, not just where you have come from.

l Benchmarking is an important performance indicator. To measure how well you are doing, you need to compare yourself to other similar schools.

In the end, the way we measure the performance of our schools will be determined by how we think about success. It is clear that quantitative measures such as results and value-added scores are important. Similarly, the demand for places, the destinations of our pupils, and teacher recruitment and retention can all be measured and tracked.

But we should also appreciate the importance of more qualitative measures, such as satisfaction surveys and reputation, and the wellbeing of our pupils. Schools are about futures and the best measure of a successful education is what our pupils go on to accomplish when they leave us - and inspiring and empowering them so that they want to stay in touch and tell us.

Kris Spencer is an assistant headteacher at Latymer Upper School and a governor and director of Notting Hill Prep School, both in West London

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